Senior-Friendly Exercise: Staying Active and Improving Mobility

Senior Group Friends Exercise Relax Concept

Key Points

  • Staying active and maintaining mobility is crucial for a healthier and more independent lifestyle health for seniors.

  • Regular exercise improves flexibility, strengthens muscles, and enhances cardiovascular elderly health.

  • There's a range of senior-friendly exercise options that cater to different fitness levels and abilities.

Welcome to the incredible world of active aging, where the golden years shine brighter than ever! Contrary to popular belief, retirement doesn't mean sitting idly in rocking chairs or fading into the background. Seniors around the globe are defying stereotypes and embracing a vibrant, active lifestyle that keeps them hale and hearty, and living life to the fullest.

Here's how the National Health Interview Survey broke down the level of activity seniors engage in:

  • 46.4 percent of older Americans engaged in no leisure-time aerobic activity

  • 26.1 percent of seniors were regularly active (participated in light- to moderate-intensity aerobic activities at least five days per week for at least 30 minutes or vigorous-intensity activities at least three days per week for at least 20 minutes)

  • 16.2 percent of seniors participated in vigorous-intensity aerobic activities at least three days per week for at least 20 minutes.

  • 13.7 percent of seniors participated in strength-training activities at least two days per week.

  • 24.5 percent of seniors participated in flexibility activities at least one day per week.

  • Among the 26.1 percent of older Americans who were regularly active, 30.5% engaged in strengthen-training activities at least two days per week.

  • Only 8.2 of older Americans met the criteria for both aerobic and strength-training activity.

Which group are you in?

As a senior, staying active and maintaining mobility is crucial for a healthier and more independent lifestyle. Engaging in regular exercise improves flexibility, strengthens muscles, and enhances cardiovascular health.

Fortunately, various senior-friendly exercise options are available that cater to different fitness levels and abilities. This article details a range of exercises suitable for seniors, including chair exercises, cycling, resistance band training, swimming, Tai Chi, walking, and yoga.

Chair Exercises

Chair exercises offer seniors a safe and effective way to increase flexibility and strength. As the title implies, these exercises can be performed while seated, making them ideal for individuals with limited mobility or requiring additional support. They strengthen your core and help you keep your balance, both vital for preventing accidental falls!

Types of Chair Exercises

  1. Seated leg raises: Start by sitting upright in a chair with your feet flat on the floor. Lift one leg straight out while keeping your core engaged. Hold for a few seconds before slowly lowering your leg back down. Repeat with the other leg.

  2. Chair squats: Begin by standing with your feet shoulder-width apart in front of a sturdy chair. Lower your body as if you were about to sit down but stop just before your buttocks touch the chair. Push through your heels to stand back up. Repeat for several repetitions.

  3. Armchair cycling: Sit in a chair with your back straight and your feet flat on the floor. Mimic the movement of pedaling a bicycle by alternately lifting your knees up and down. Increase the intensity by pedaling faster or adding resistance with ankle weights.


Cycling is a low-impact exercise that offers numerous benefits for seniors. It improves cardiovascular fitness, strengthens leg muscles, and enhances balance and coordination. Additionally, cycling can be tailored to suit various fitness levels and preferences.

Types of Senior-Friendly Cycling

  1. Stationary bike: This indoor exercise bike lets seniors cycle in the comfort of their own homes. It has adjustable resistance levels, allowing for a customized workout. Certain stationary bikes have additional features like built-in heart rate monitors and adjustable seats that elevate the cycling experience.

  2. Recumbent bike: Recumbent bikes feature a reclined seat that provides excellent back support, making them ideal for seniors with back pain or limited mobility. The design reduces stress on the joints and minimizes the risk of injury.

  3. Tricycles for seniors: Tricycles offer a stable and secure option for seniors who want to cycle outdoors. With three wheels instead of two, tricycles provide increased stability and balance, so they're an excellent choice for older adults concerned about falling.

Resistance Band Training

Resistance band training is a versatile and effective form of exercise for seniors. These elastic bands provide resistance throughout the range of motion, strengthening muscles, improving balance, and increasing stability.

Exercises Using Resistance Bands

  1. Bicep curls: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and place one end of the resistance band under your feet, holding the other end in each hand. Keep your elbows close to your sides and slowly curl your forearms toward your shoulders. Pause briefly and slowly lower back down. Repeat for several repetitions.

  2. Squats with resistance band: Stand on the resistance band with your feet shoulder-width apart, holding the other end at shoulder height. Lower your body into a squat position while keeping your back straight and knees aligned with your toes. Push through your heels to stand back up. Repeat for several repetitions.

  3. Side leg lifts with resistance band: Anchor the band to a sturdy object at ankle height. Stand facing sideways with the band around your ankles. Lift one leg out to the side against the resistance of the band, maintaining proper form (standing up straight and engaging your core muscles). Slowly lower the leg back down and repeat on the other side.


Swimming is an excellent low-impact exercise that gives seniors a full-body workout. It improves cardiovascular endurance, strengthens muscles, and increases flexibility without putting stress on the joints.

Senior-Friendly Swimming Options

  1. Water aerobics classes: Many community centers and senior centers offer water aerobics classes specifically designed for older adults. These classes provide a safe and supportive environment where seniors engage in various water-based exercises that promote cardiovascular health, strength, and flexibility.

  2. Lap swimming: Lap swimming is a fantastic option if you're comfortable in the water and have basic swimming skills. It allows you to swim at your own pace, increasing your endurance and strength. Check with your local pool for designated lap swim times.

  3. Aquatic therapy: Aquatic therapy is a form of rehabilitation that takes place in a heated pool, often under the supervision of a physical therapist. The warm water relaxes the muscles and facilitates a greater range of motion. This is especially beneficial for seniors recovering from injuries or managing chronic conditions.

Tai Chi

Tai Chi is an ancient Chinese martial art that combines slow, flowing movements with deep breathing and mindfulness. It suits seniors of all fitness levels and offers numerous benefits, including improved balance, flexibility, and mental well-being.

You might not have to go far to find a group of Tai Chi practitioners in your neighborhood. As reported on June 24, 2023, a group in Manchester, NH, meets every Friday at noon to do Tai Chi under the gazebo at Derryfield Park. Power on!

Tai Chi Moves for Seniors

1. Opening and closing: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Extend your arms out to the sides with your palms facing down. Slowly raise your arms in front of you, bringing your palms together. Reverse the movement, slowly lowering your arms back to the starting position. Repeat several times.

2. Grasp the bird's tail: Begin with your feet shoulder-width apart and your knees slightly bent. Lift your arms in front of you, elbows bent, and palms facing each other. Push your hands forward while keeping your body in an upright position. Slowly pull your hands back towards your chest while pushing your hips forward. Repeat this flowing movement several times.

3. Wave hands like clouds: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and your arms relaxed by your sides. Shift your weight to one leg and move your opposite arm in an arc shape across your body. As your arm passes in front, shift your weight to the other leg and let the opposite arm move in the opposite arc shape. This continuous, rhythmic motion resembles gently waving your hands in the air.


Walking is a simple yet highly beneficial exercise for seniors. It requires no special equipment beyond a decent pair of walking shoes. Even walking around the block or the mall offers a multitude of physical and mental health benefits.

"Even incorporating a few minutes of walking into one's daily routine can be quite beneficial," said professor of medicine Randall Stafford, MD, Ph.D., to the Standford Medicine blog. "Physical activity has benefits that are immediate as well as sustained."

Tips for Senior Walking

  1. Choosing appropriate footwear: Invest in comfortable, supportive walking shoes that provide proper cushioning and stability. Ensure they fit well and have enough arch support to prevent discomfort or injury.

  2. Setting goals and tracking progress: Start with short walks and gradually increase the duration and intensity as you build endurance. Use a pedometer or a fitness tracker to monitor your steps and track your progress. Aim for at least 30 minutes of brisk walking most days of the week.

  3. Incorporating walking into a daily routine: Look for opportunities to incorporate walking into your daily activities. Take the stairs instead of the elevator, park further away from the store, or join a walking group for added motivation and social interaction.

smiling multiethnic senior athletes synchronous exercising on step platforms at gym

Yoga for Seniors

Yoga is a gentle yet powerful exercise that combines physical poses, breathing techniques, and relaxation. It offers numerous benefits for seniors, including improved flexibility, strength, and mental well-being.

Senior-Friendly Yoga Poses

  1. Mountain pose: Stand with your feet hip-width apart, aligning your body from head to toe. Relax your arms by your sides and engage your core. Take slow, deep breaths and focus on grounding yourself to the earth.

  2. Tree pose: Begin by standing with your feet together. Shift your weight onto one leg and gently lift the opposite foot, placing the sole against your inner thigh or lower leg (avoid placing the foot directly on the knee). Find your balance and bring your hands together in front of your chest. Hold the pose for a few breaths before switching sides.

  3. Cat-cow stretch: Begin on all fours with your hands under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Inhale and arch your back, lifting your head and tailbone while letting your belly sink toward the floor (cow pose). Exhale and round your spine, tucking your chin toward your chest and tailbone down (cat pose). Repeat this fluid motion, coordinating each breath with the movement.

Keep Hydrated

Staying hydrated is crucial for individuals of all ages, and it's even more vital for seniors who engage in exercise or physical activities. Proper hydration maintains overall health and well-being by regulating body temperature, supporting organ function, aiding digestion, and ensuring the delivery of nutrients to cells.

For seniors, staying hydrated during exercise is particularly important to prevent dehydration and heat-related illnesses. As we age, our bodies experience changes in thirst perception, making it easier to overlook the need for fluids.

Here are some essential tips for seniors to stay hydrated during exercise.


Drink fluids before exercise so your body starts in a hydrated state. Consume water or other hydrating beverages at least an hour before your exercise session. This achieves a healthy balance of fluid in your body.

Drink Water During Exercise

Sip on water regularly during your workout to replenish the fluids lost through sweating. Drinking small amounts at regular intervals is recommended rather than gulping down large quantities at once.

Take Hydration Breaks

If you're engaging in prolonged exercise sessions or high-intensity activities, take regular breaks to hydrate. Find a convenient spot to rest and rehydrate before continuing your exercise routine.

Listen to Your Body

Be aware of the signs of dehydration, which include excessive thirst, dry mouth, dizziness, fatigue, or reduced urine output. If you experience any of these symptoms during exercise, take a break, rehydrate, and seek shade if exercising outdoors in hot weather.

Remember, staying hydrated is not just about drinking water during exercise. It's a good habit to repeat throughout the day. Seniors should drink adequate fluids regularly, even on non-exercise days, to support their overall health and well-being.

Staying Active Keeps You Healthy and Happy

Incorporating senior-friendly exercises into your daily routine helps you stay active, improves mobility, and enhances overall well-being. Choose activities that are safe, enjoyable, and aligned with your fitness goals. Stay consistent, listen to your body, and enjoy the transformative benefits of staying active as a senior!

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